(wiki: transcription checking) How to avoid falling into Early Buddhist fundamentalism / a very short transcript of a part of a Venerable Sujato’s Workshop

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An interesting comparison. The 32-marks might be a good example of an early Buddhist teaching that “early Buddhist fundamentalists” would insist on taking seriously and literally, but non-fundamentalists would be content to dismiss (or at least interpret non-literally).


Rebirth (samsara) is part of the early Buddhist adaptations of general Indian religious beliefs, but not a fundamental of the Buddhist faith. The term samsara is not found in the fundamental teachings of early Buddhism, such as the four noble truths, conditioned arising. Instead of samsara, it is better to say “dukkha” is the central focus of the early Buddhist teachings.

It seems the criteria for “fundamentals” of a religion do not fit in well in the Buddhist tradition. Buddhism is also not regarded as a religion in the general definition of religion, such as belief in and worship of God/gods or any external superhuman controlling power.


Taṇhā dutiyo puriso,
dīghamaddhāna saṃsaraṃ;
saṃsāraṃ nātivattati.
Craving is a person’s partner
as they transmigrate on this long journey.
They go from this state to another,
but don’t get past transmigration.

(AN 4.9)

There’s possibly a reason these early communities might have taken the virgin birth seriously/literally even if they were “non-fundamentalists,” namely, it fulfills a prophecy in the Septuagint, the dominant recension of the Torah among Hellenized Jews of the period in question, and that prophecy was likely very important for them both geopolitically (freedom from Rome) and in terms of how they viewed their salvation.

It is possible the 32 marks were involved in a similar prophecy, but no proof of that.


I think the idea of the 32 marks is not a fundamental of the Buddhist faith, though it is mentioned in the Pali text. The Dhammas (of the Buddha) contributing to bodhi/enlightenment are the foundation of Early Buddhism.


I think the idea is that they are supposed to prove that the Buddha was a remarkable, rare and “wheel turning” spiritual leader.

However I will note that according to Analayo, the 32 marks were originally seen as imperceptible to the average person, and required very special religious training to detect. And of course, there is contrasting evidence from the Ebts which depict the Buddha as looking just like any other bald Indian monk and thus others cannot tell him apart from other Bhikkhus.


I recently read a Biblical studies monograph that argues something along similar grounds— that for Jews living in the Roman Empire, fulfillment of prophecy was considered far more persuasive than physical proof (which could be chalked up to sorcery, fraud, trickery, etc.). The monograph was focusing, not on the virgin birth, but on the resurrection and the way the gospels accounts emphasize scriptural citations to “prove” the case for it. Here is an excerpt:

As we have seen in Chapter 3, the vast majority of proto-orthodox apologists refrain from
appealing to the physical proofs. One reason for this was the notion that miraculous events such as Jesus’s resurrection were in themselves unreliable as proofs. 6 The main problem was that naysayers and skeptics could dismiss miracles, including Jesus’s resurrection, as nothing more than illusion or sorcery.7 Therefore, rather than reciting the physical demonstrations from Luke and John, the apologists appealed to the fulfillment of prophecy, which they held to be a superior form of proof. Here again we are confronted with the gap between ancient and modern worldviews. Modern readers whose worldview entails the presupposition of a closed universe may too readily assume that the physical demonstrations in Luke 24:39-43 would have themselves been sufficient proof, whereas ancient readers who believe in a variety of supernatural phenomena might assess these elements in Luke’s narrative differently.

(from “The Doubt of the Apostles and the Resurrection Faith of the Early Church” by J.D.Atkins)

It’s a good warning about how we need to be careful about projecting our modernist biases on the ancients — they might have had completely different criteria for what was considered important. Perhaps this discrepancy in worldview can result in discrepancies about what is considered “fundamental” to a religion or not.

Interesting thoughts.


I am sure you realise that this is not in line with what EBT scholars say, and the topic of many discussions here . However, by stating it in this fashion it sounds as though you are declaring it to be a truth rather than your opinion.


For anyone interested in an overview here is a link


This makes sense. After all, there is still the extant antecedents of a parallel first century Judaean baptizing sect from Palestine, the Mandaeans, the long-embattled dispensation of John the Baptist, a pet passion of mine to research, who think the Christians worship, idolatrously, a syzygy of Hermes Trismegistus in the form of an avatar of the planetary luminary Mercury, who worked wicked magic to copy some of John the Baptist’s miracles.

Off-Topic Meanderings

Comparing Mandaean and Christian accounts of the baptism of Jesus:

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.
14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

(Matthew 3:13-17)


John teaches in the nights, John in the evenings of the nights
John teaches in the nights
Splendor shines upon the worlds.
Who said to Jesus
To Jesus the son of Mariam?
Who said to Jesus
So that he came to the bank of the Jordan
And said to John:
“Baptize me with your baptism
By the name which you pronounce, pronounce over me
If I become your disciple
I will mention you in my written decree
If I do not become your disciple
Erase my name from your scroll”

John spoke to Jesus Christ in Jerusalem and said,
“You lied to the Jews
and you have deceived the men, the priests.
You cut the seed from men
and childbirth and pregnancy from women.
You loosed the Sabbath that Moses ordained.
In Jerusalem you lied to them with horns
and sounded tooting with a trumpet.”

Jesus Christ said to John in Jerusalem,
“If I lied to the Jews
Let flaming fire consume me.
If I deceived the men, the priests
May I die two deaths in one.
If I cut off the seed from men,
May I not pass to the great day of the end.
If I cut off childbirth and pregnancy from women,
May a judge be established in my presence.
If I loosed the Sabbath
Let flaming fire consume me.
If I lied to the Jews,
Let my path be through thistle and thorn.
If I sounded with a tooting trumpet,
Let my eyes not fall on Abatur.
You, baptize me with your baptism,
From the name that you pronounce, pronounce upon me.
If I become a disciple
I will mention myself in my written decree.
If I do not become a disciple,
Erase my name from your scroll.”

John spoke to Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, saying,
“A deaf man does not become a scribe
And a blind man does not write a letter
A desolate house is not fruitful
And a widow does not become a bride
Putrid waters are not pleasant
and a stone in oil does not get wet.”

Jesus Christ spoke to John in Jerusalem and said,
“A mute person becomes a scribe
And a deaf person writes a letter
A desolate house is fruitful
and a widow becomes a bride
Putrid waters are pleasant
and a stone in oil gets wet.”

John spoke to Jesus Christ in Jerusalem and said,
“If you can explain these things to me,
You are wise, Christ.”

Jesus Christ spoke to John in Jerusalem and said,
A mute person becomes a scribe :
the child that comes from a woman who gives birth
grows big and strong
he consecrates gifts and alms –
gifts and alms he consecrates –
and he ascends and comes to the place of light.

A deaf person writes a letter :
The son of the wicked became the son of the good
He forsook adultery and forsook theft
and believed in the Mighty Life.
A desolate house shined;
The son of might submitted,
he forsook treacheries and forsook beds
and the house was built in a day
– in a day, the house was built –
and two doors were opened,
so that if someone came down,
he came and opened the door and welcomed him,
and if someone came up,
he came and opened the door and welcomed him.
If he seeks to eat, a dish is set up in truth.
If he seeks to drink, bowls of mixed wine.
If he seeks to sleep, he spread a bed in truth.
If he wishes to go, roads of truth he treads.
– he treads roads of truth and faith –
and he rises up, he sees the place of light.

A widow who becomes a bride :
A woman who from her youth was a widow
grasped the shirt (of a man) and married the world,
which they nurtured, a son as he went yonder.
Her face will not be destroyed by her husband.

Putrid waters which are pleasant :
A prostitute who becomes a lady
goes up to town and goes down from town
and the crown is not removed from her face.

A stone gets wet in oil :
A Manichaean who was from the mountain
forsook sorceries and forsook witchcraft
and believed in the Mighty Life.
He found an orphan and an old man and an army full of widows.

You, John, baptize me with your baptism
In the name that you pronounce, pronounce upon me.
If I become a disciple,
I will mention myself in my written decree.
If I do not become a disciple,
Erase my name from your scroll.
You will be held responsible for your sin
And I will be held responsible for my sin.”

When Jesus Christ said these things,
A letter came to John from the House of Abatur:
“Baptize the deceiver in the Jordan.
Bring him down into the Jordan.
Baptize him, do not be grieved.”

He brought him back up to the shore.
Spirit took the form of a dove.
She made a cross in the Jordan
and she lifted up the waters in colors,
and said to the Jordan,
“You defile me and you defile my seven sons.”

The Jordan in which Christ the deceiver is praised
is turned into a gutter.
The communion bread which Christ the deceiver takes
is made infernal.
The communion wine which Christ the deceiver takes
is turned into a sacrifice.
The turban which Christ the deceiver takes
is made into Jewish priesthood.
The staff which Christ the deceiver takes
is made sickly.

Guard me, oh woe, guard my friend.
[The Romans are like unto a cross, which they affix to walls,
and they stand and worship a crucifix]
Guard me, my brother, from the god fashioned by a carpenter!

(Drāšā D-Yaḥyā 30, “Jesus Comes to John to be Baptized”)

Endlessly fascinating.

Some early depictions of Jesus that run contrary to the source you quoted sometimes even show Jesus with a wand with which he may work his magical miracles.

So there’s diversity all around. Certainly a lot of Church Fathers downplay his miracle-working like what you quoted suggests too.


The term, samsara, is certainly found in EBTs, and is closely linked to karma/kamma. But the idea of samsara in the texts only indicates the Buddha’s, or the early Buddhist adaptation of the general, local Indian religious beliefs. Similarly, other general terms of the local Indian religious beliefs, such as deva, Maara, Brahma, are found in EBTs.


If I have misunderstood you I apologise. I focused on the following part of your statement (in bold) and this is what I was responding to :slight_smile:

Note, opinions are all fine, as long as it is clear.


Agreed. Today’s mordernist worldviews will surely become very ancient next several hundred years or so; and yet, Buddha’s teachings will always be new for each and every interested and able worldling of every era, if and only if the teachings are not cumulatively destroyed by successively reckless discardings of what one cannot understand or accept, imo.



I’d appreciate a pre-Buddhist attestation of such ideas, if you know of one.


The following website on the idea of samsara may be useful:


Thanks, but the citations on there aren’t very useful, most of them are to secondary sources. I’m aware that there are hints as to the idea of samsara before the Buddha, I was looking for direct attestations in pre-Buddhist texts. The Upanishads have multiple theories of rebirth.


My two baht on some of this is that for fundamental beliefs, one has to apply test of reason and evidence to each claim, and then people need to determine for themselves whether these claims make sense, or carry weight. In my work, we have this idea that evidence is evaluated based on its weight and probative value. As fact finders, we weigh the value of the evidence to determine what is more or less likely to be true.

I have mentioned in another post that I (like others here) am pursuing chaplaincy as a Buddhist. One aspect of this path of education is the ability to study other religions and ancient religious texts, and to exchange ideas with a cohort of students from a variety of religions and spiritual practices. One of the old jokes around M.Div. students is that the more they study their religions, and the ancient texts, the less “religious” or dogmatic, or fundamentalist they get. In other words, if you want a Christian to “lose their religion,” have them study the origins, and early texts from Christianity.

Conversely, at least for me, the more study and scrutiny that is applied to the EBTs, measured against modern scientific scrutiny, the more confidence that I have in these early teachings and practices. For me, this is part of the value of studying the early texts, and the historicity of the Buddha. The more that we weigh and evaluate the evidence, the stronger one’s confidence in these teachings becomes. By way of example, rebirth is integral to the Buddha’s taught Path, and if we really look at the evidence of rebirth, it has probative weight. It is not at all akin, IMO, to a belief in a virgin birth, or even the resurrection of a man named Jesus who was a Jewish apocalyptic preacher (among hundreds of that time) from Nazareth (and likely born in that one-horse town of ancient Nazareth, not Bethlehem.) Even the Gospel of Mark, the earliest Gospel, as I recall, makes no claim of a resurrection of a dead man. If there was a Jesus of history ( and there likely was) he was a rebel orthodox Jew who railed against Roman occupation, and was crucified as a punishment and warning by the Romans ( as was done to many like him). The idea of a resurrection seems not reasonable given both science, and the study of the ancient texts.

So, if we apply science and reason to each religion, or philosophy or teaching, we can determine what weight to give to these claims. In my view, the more we study and evaluate religions and the ancient texts, the less we can give probative weight to some, and more to others.


The basic idea is, samsara based on karma, established in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad and Chandogya Upanishad.


Or… the virgin birth idea could have been a wonderfully creative solution adopted by someone to explain a teenage /awkward pregnancy. Genius, turn a difficult social situation and ward off parental anger and start a fundamentalist movement all in one stroke!


I read a long time ago (and thus cannot identify sources) that maiden was the socially sanctioned term for any woman of a certain age who had not been married and had not had children; and that over time, the use of the term became “virgin”, and confused. And eventually, a miracle which could be interpreted inline with prophesies.


The greek septuagint translation of Isaiah reads that a “virgin” shall conceive, while the hebrew just says “young woman.” Matthew used the septuagint “virgin” reading to argue the virgin birth fulfilled Hebrew scriptures. However, Luke also records a virgin birth without mentioning the Isaiah prophecy, so it’s unlikely Isaiah was the only source for the idea.


Interesting to see a discussion of the virgin birth on a Buddhist website! :slight_smile:

On early Christian sources, obviously these are far far less extensive than the Buddhist ones. However, I think the earliest written ones for Christianity would not be the gospels as such but rather the Pauline Epistles (particularly the seven that almost all scholars agree are authentic; there are three more that receive mixed opinions and another three that generally are not considered written by Paul). In terms of earliness, these would have been written from less than 20 years after Jesus’ death for the first to less than 25 years for the later ones. And in terms of Paul’s story, he would have converted to Christianity about 3 to 4 years after the crucifixion and spent time in Jerusalem, about 10 years after the event, meeting some of the main people involved (stayed 15 days with Peter and met James, brother of Jesus, who would lead the Jerusalem church for about its first 30 years; at a later trip to Jerusalem he met others like the apostle John). This is about as early as any source gets.

On the virgin birth, curiously, there’s no mention of it at all in the Pauline Epistles (there’s a mention about Jesus simply being born of a woman). The gospels were written several decades later. The gospels of John and Mark do not mention it either. Matthew and Luke do, but you’d have to wonder if they merely incorporated a tradition, including the whole Christmas story, that developed in later decades (possibly scripturally motivated).

Interestingly, most of the big ticket items of Christian doctrine are present in these seven epistles: the Holy Spirit, the human and divine nature of Jesus, his crucifixion, his raising after three days, various appearances afterwards to Peter, the twelve, a group of 500, baptism, forgiveness of sins, Eucharist, Jesus’ imminent return before that generation had passed away, which was a belief held by most very early Christians and something that obviously didn’t happen! Curiously, there’s also, I think, no mention of miracles or healings (though the resurrection is). IMO this basic creed was something probably formulated in the immediate years just after the event. Of course, it’s possible that a lot of Paul’s own ideas made their way into his own Epistles. However, I tend to think the main ideas he describes probably would not really have departed too much from what was circulating early on. Most of the disputes seemed to center on how to treat non-Jewish converts. James and the Jerusalem Church wanted them to take on all Jewish observances, Paul was at the other extreme, advocating jettisoning most of them, with Peter stuck somewhere in the middle. I reckon we are only getting one side of the story here.

I think the gospel of Mark and its abrupt ending was mentioned above. Many, though not all, consider it the oldest gospel. It has been speculated that perhaps the original ending in its codex was lost. At least two endings have been tagged on at various stages. However, I wouldn’t say that there’s no reference at all to the resurrection belief in the ending. The final verses that all versions share talk of Mary Magdalene and other female followers going to the tomb and discovering it empty and encountering a young man dressed in white saying:

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing"

It’s rather a sudden ending, but still fairly consistent with the picture painted by Paul. Generally, the standard four gospels and Acts are several decades further in time away than the Pauline Epistles. Some various agendas are apparent. For example, the whole Pontius Pilate hand-washing thing seems fairly implausible. It appears that Pontius Pilate (judging from other sources) was later recalled to Rome for excessive cruelty in a different province, something that took some doing given the ungentle nature of the Roman Empire! This benign hand-washing seems a bit out of character in that light, so a bit of adjusting of the narrative to make things a bit more Roman friendly (as many converts in that period would have been) seems more likely.

I suspect most of the other apocryphal gospels are even later again and somewhat less reliable. Some interesting name frequency analysis has been done on these documents, making use of painstaking research undertaken out by Jewish researcher Tal Ilan. She constructed a comprehensive compendium of name frequencies of the area for around that time (looking at sources like names inscribed on ossuaries). The frequency pattern of the most common names is something usually rather specific to a time and place. Name frequencies in the gospels closely match the name frequencies she uncovered for the purported time and place that they occurred. The apocryphal gospels have name frequencies that usually mostly depart a fair bit from these. IMO this probably indicates most of these are situated yet a bit further away from the source events, written by people less intimately familiar with the names and places of early first century Palestine.

Apologies for the digression (straying quite far from aims of the site). Have had an interest in such things in the past, and thought I’d throw in my two cents! :slight_smile: